It has been a turbulent season for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and much of that had to do with the backcourt play. There are a lot of other factors as well, but one of the biggest indicators of how this team was going to sink or swim fell on the shoulders of the backcourt.
And when the pressure came, the Zags sank almost every time. Barring the near collapse against the Connecticut Huskies, the young backcourt of Josh Perkins and Silas Melson weren't pulling their necessary weight. Seniors Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis weren't helping much either. The only player who was seemingly out of criticism's way was Bryan Alberts, solely because he didn't see the court much.
Perkins, especially, seemed to attract much of the ire from the fanbase. His passes were too flashy and unnecessary. He was racking up some assists, but his shot wasn't falling at all. His main issue was the turnovers, of which there were more than enough to go around.
And it was a rough, rough go for all of us as well. Having Kevin Pangos for four years was a blessing that is now something we are all paying for at the same time. Remember last year, when Pangos started out the year with the basketball virtually glued to his hands? Perkins was making us forget about that in an instant.
Teams that have shaky point guards will have shaky results as well. Gonzaga watched a huge lead against UConn almost evaporate, but then would later see that happen against Arizona at home. The Tweets came in. Josh Perkins was a human piece of garbage that had doomed the Gonzaga Bulldogs for eternity and eternity.
If it seems like I am being hyperbolic, well, I am. But realistically, only slightly. I can't think of another player that has garnered a more negative attitude about his play on the court, and for the most part, Perkins justified it. The thing is, that isn't really the case any more. Perkins has turned that corner when very few of us were paying attention. Losses to BYU and Saint Mary's muddled that even further. But a quick look at the stats, and it looks like we finally have the player we all thought we had.
All of that translates to a huge discrepancy in a very huge number: offensive rating. Perkins' ORtg in the non-conference was just 79.7, which would be by far the lowest rating from a Gonzaga Bulldogs player in the past six years. During conference play, Perkins has an ORtg of 121.6. If we take a look at his wretched first half combined with his rather nice second half, Perkins is having a respectable go at his first full season.
This right here is the key part to consider and remember. Perkins, albeit a redshirt, is a freshman, and there is a learning curve that comes with being a freshman in college. Some players show it more than others, but plenty of hyped recruits take a year or so to get their head on straight. Perkins has been doing this right before our eyes, but often times, we haven't taken notice, because there haven't been those "huge" games. Outside of his monstrous game against Santa Clara, which nearly everyone forgot because the game was so tight, Perkins has steadily improved throughout the season in a quiet manner.
There are still a few things that we would like to see, like a higher free throw percentage and less fouls. But with the slim margin this team operates on, beggars can't be choosers.
What we wanted to see this year from these guards--steady improvement. Yeah, the losses are unfortunate. And yeah, it is easy to start thinking about that NCAA Tournament streak coming to a close. But there are still plenty of opportunities for the Zags to write their own March destiny this season, and a lot of it revolves around the improved play of their young point guard. So far, he is working hard to keep up his end of the bargain.